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    Old Traditions Die Hard: UK Parliament Opening Facts and Peculiarities

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    Wednesday (May 18) saw the official state opening of Parliament in the UK, which for the most part concentrated on the Government's legislative agenda for the coming session. But amongst the politics, there's a great deal of pomp and ceremony which - depending on your perspective - ranges from charming, to eccentric, to - well - downright odd.

    So, let's put politics to one side for the moment, and take a look at five things you probably didn't know about the state opening of Parliament in the UK.

    Searching of the Cellars

    Safety first. This is how the day begins — the "Yeomen of the Guard," the Queen's bodyguards, search for any possible gunpowder plot. There's not actually been a gunpowder plot since 1605, but old traditions die hard.

    The costumes and technology haven't changed much in the intervening centuries either — hence the frilly collars and paraffin lamps. The bodyguards also get paid in Port.

    Parliamentary Hostage

    Because of the way the UK Parliament is set up, the Queen isn't allowed to enter the House of Commons at all — that's why she gives her speech in the neighboring House of Lords, with the members of the commons (MPs) in attendance.

    As a result of all this, the Commons is traditionally not trusted to return the Queen in one piece, so the palace takes a hostage — yes, an actual hostage — for the duration, usually a government whip.

    'Black Rod' Door-in-the-Face

    This is probably the most important part of the whole day, as it symbolizes the independence of the House of Commons from the Monarch.

    The "gentlemen usher of the Black Rod" — also simply known as "Black Rod" — gets the doors of parliament ceremoniously slammed in his face, he is only granted entry after he bangs on the door with his rod.

    Once Black Rod is allowed into the Commons, he summons the MPs to the House of Lords, for the Queen's speech.

    Dennis Skinner's 'Quip'

    Long-serving Labour MP Dennis Skinner, is unusual in that he provides one of the few traditions that are specific to just one person. 

    For most state openings, he's interrupted the ceremonial silence, to shout some sort of "zinger" at Black Rod before leaving the Commons to go to the Lords.

    This year, he shouted "hands off the BBC," in reference to elements within the Conservative government who want to privatize the UK's state broadcaster.

    The Queen's Speech

    Whilst the Queen's speech may sound fairly self-explanatory, it's important to note that she doesn't actually write her own speech.

    In fact, it's entirely possible that she doesn't agree with anything written in it. The speech is — of course — written by the Prime Minister.

    Related:

    The Queen's Speech: Elizabeth II to Open UK Parliamentary Session
    The Queen's Speech - and the Ghost of Margaret Thatcher Roars With Approval
    Tags:
    tradition, session, government, parliament, opening, House of Lords, House of Commons, Queen Elizabeth II, Great Britain, United Kingdom
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